Georges Jordac

by Imraan

Here’ a plug for a book that most Western Shi’as will already be familiar with – I’ve heard it mentioned several times on various pulpits.  It has been recommended to me on several occasions and I recently started reading it.

NB – before I continue I must state that I have not read the book in full, nor am I an expert on the subject, the following are just cursory thoughts on the first couple of chapters of the book.**

It’s called, The Voice of Human Justice (Sautu’l ‘Adala ti’l Insaniyah [sic]) and was written by  a Lebanese and (purportedly) Christian scholar – Georges Jordac – interestingly I can’t seem to find any biographical information on him from outside of Shi’a websites; no matter.  Interestingly, as of January 2012, irib.ir reports that:

Jordac is old and retired now. He has been living with his books in his apartment in Beirut over the past few years. He is not well and has decided to sell his library and to take a rest until the end of his life,” scholar Hojjatoleslam Mohammadreza Zaeri had earlier said.

I’d be curious to see as to what happens to his personal collection down the line, though the state of Iran’s National Library and Archives (INLA) seems to have put in a bid to purchase the collection – my hope is that down the line it will be loaned to western libraries – I’m sure there must be much by way of his personal letters which would make for interesting examination and exploration.

So anyway, I started to read the book lately. One paragraph at the end of the second chapter really made me think:

It makes no difference in the position of Ali whether or not history recognizes him and whether his eminence appears greater or lesser. Notwithstanding this, history has testified that he was the deepest stage of human thought. He sacrificed his life for the sake of truth and reality. He was the father of the martyrs and proclaimer of justice. He was the unique man of the East, who will live forever!

This book, a biography, reads almost as if it could have been written by a Shi’i. I’m astounded at the amount of reverence given to the beloved Imam Ali (A.S) from outside of the Muslim fold – there are several quotes included (the English translation unfortunately does not contain any bibliographic footnotes – although the edition I have is intended for mass-distribution and is abridged) that I have yet to come across in Shi’a texts, though I suspect it’s because I haven’t read enough.

What is interesting is that as a biography (or if I’m being more fair to Jordac, a treatise on the justice of the Imam Ali A.S)   tone is very indicative of someone who venerates the Imam, who appears to  believe (and I’m inclined to agree with him) that from all the research he has carried out that there is only one way to examine the life of this great man, and he makes no apologies for his tone nor the content of his book.

These quotes at least so far, are selected for their special emphasis on social justice, especially where wealth is concerned – this is the running theme of the book.

If a person starves it is due to the fact that his share has been taken by another.

And

I have not seen any excessive bounty which is not associated with a right which has been violated

Assuming that the quotes are indeed attributable to Imam Ali (A.S) and the translations are accurate (both are from page 13 of the 2006 edition), I can’t help but see (what would today be considered) Marxian themes – and I don’t mean this necessarily in a normative way  –  running through the thinking of either the author (who has cleverly sewn into Imam Ali’s words such an ideology – indeed the author himself uses the word ‘capitalists’  on page 12, among other places – is it just me or does it seem almost anachronistic to use it in a biography of the Imam? ) or the fact that indeed, Imam Ali’s (A.S) thoughts, in so far as his ideas on wealth go, would be firmly on the Left today.

The implications for justice, democracy, human rights, free-will etc. are vast – because on a cursory glance, it would appear that injustice in so far as material wealth is a product of (either) human greed/weakness or societal mis-management/mis-organisation [sic!]. Jordac talks of in this first chapter Imam Ali’s (A.S) establishment of a public treasury through which all citizens had access, suggests that the wealth of the individual was only really his insomuch as it could be used to benefit society as a whole – indeed his admonitions towards one of his governors to discourage hoarding would suggest that indeed wealth needs to circulate.

Moreover, this discourse would tie firmly the individual’s responsibility of self with his responsibility over the iniquity exhibited in society – that the poorer person’s misfortune might be put down to the richer’s (illegitimate) displacement of the former’s wealth – our responsibility over ourselves are so crucially important to bear in mind that we might be answerable for others’ fates if we are not vigilant over ourselves.  (Of course, the Qur’an speaks  – from what I understand, and again I’m no expert – of personal responsibility, and the fact that we’re tested according to our means – we are intentionally placed in different societal positions, although that doesn’t necessarily contradict the above. [1]

Say: What!  shall I seek a Lord other than Allah? And He is the Lord of all things; and no soul earns (evil) but against itself, and no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another; then to your Lord is your return, so He will inform you of that in which you differed. ..

And He it is Who has made you successors in the land and raised some of you above others by (various) grades, that He might try you by what He has given you; surely your Lord is quick to requite (evil), and He is most surely the Forgiving, the Merciful.  (Qur’an VI: 164-5;The Qur’an, 7th Edn;   M. H. Shakir (Trans.); 135;  ( Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc.; New York : 1999 ); Emphasis added.

Anyway, the point of all this is – how much are we actually responsible for? If human justice entails such vigilance over ourselves, our wealth and our conduct that we should not unintentionally usurp the justified wealth (and if I was to extrapolate further, any possessions or commodities or rights)  of others, what does it say to those of us who live very, very comfortably in the West – who have perpetual access to food, shelter, clothing, technology, information; how much will we account for, and for how much will we be held to account?


[1] Note, I have not gone into tafsir literature here – this is just a layperson’s understanding.

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